St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for February 18, 2018

Lent 1

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
February 18, 2018
1 Lent B
Genesis 9:8-17; Mark 1: 9-15
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are in our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     Covenant. Our first lesson from the book of Genesis is about the covenant that God makes not only with Noah but with every living creature on the earth and their descendants, after the flood destroys the earth. God's covenant is that God will never again destroy the earth and all living things. As a reminder of God's covenant, God will set a rainbow in the clouds so God will remember the vow never to destroy the earth again.
     Usually when a covenant is made, both sides agree to something. But it this case it is God alone who makes the covenant. There is not an "if" clause at the end of the covenant......if you obey my laws, or if you keep my commandments, or if you sell all that you own. But God's covenant with Noah, and with us, has no conditions in it at all. There is nothing about what Noah will or will not do. It's all about what God will and won't do. "I won't hurt you like this again, " God promises Noah. Never again will God destroy the earth and all its inhabitants.
     So what brought us to this place? We are only in the ninth chapter of Genesis, the first book of the bible, and already God wants to destroy the whole creation that God has made, except for Noah and his family who appear to be the only righteous ones.
     The answer is sin. We start with Adam and Eve in the garden, disobeying God by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They wanted to be like God. They didn't want to follow God's rules so they are forced out of the garden. Then we have Cain killing Abel, the first murder, but certainly not the last. Things continued to get worse until God says, "I will blot out from the earth the human beings that I have created; people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them." (6:7). "For I am sorry that I have made them." What a sobering statement from God. You can almost hear the despair and discouragement in God's voice. Things hadn't worked out as God had hoped. But Noah and his family found favor in God's sight and they were spared.
     When God sees the destruction, God makes this covenant with Noah. God has changed God's mind. God will never destroy the earth again. Never. God will not break God's covenant with us. No matter what. Not even when we declare war on each other or kill each other, or betray or demean each other, or ravage God's creation. Not even when innocent students and teachers are gunned down in their own school, in a place that should be safe for learning and growing, as happened in Florida this past week. God grieves when we act in these ways and people are killed and injured. But God will not give up on us, no matter how outrageous our behavior is, because of God's love for us.
     "I will be your God and you will be my people," God tells us. God wants a relationship with us. God loves us, no matter what, and wants the best for us. But too often, we sin and put obstacles between ourselves and God.
     Lent, that began on Ash Wednesday, invites us to examine our sins and how we pull ourselves away from God and God's love for us. It is a time to repent of our sins and strengthen our relationship with God. It is a time to affirm our covenant with God, the covenant that we made or was made for us at our baptism. We may break our covenant with God but God will never break God's covenant with us.
     So how do we do this? How do we repent of our sins and strengthen our relationship with God? The Ash Wednesday services states, "by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self denial, and by reading and meditating on God's holy word."
     During the 40 days of Lent, we are encouraged to name and wrestle with our own demons and temptations, as Jesus did in the wilderness after his baptism, temptations that are unique to each one of us. We need to look inside and see what is separating us from God, what obstacles we are putting in the way, what is keeping us from having a deeper relationship with God.
     If it is helpful to give up something for Lent to remind us of our dependence on God alone and not on earthly things, then do that. If it is helpful to sacrifice something to remind us of Jesus' self-sacrifice, then do that. If it is more helpful to take on a particular task of giving or reading or reflection, then do that. There is no right or wrong way to observe the season of Lent. Do what works for you. Don't do the same old thing every year if it doesn't work. The important thing is to focus on our spiritual lives and to deepen our relationship with God so that at the end of Lent, we are more spiritually alive, enriched and fulfilled.
     Lent doesn't have to be a time of dread and drudgery. It should be a time to look for ways to serve, seeing Christ's presence in the opportunities that are often right in front of us. It should be a time of self-searching - looking at our spiritual lives and our relationship with God
     God is always there, ready to draw us deeper, wanting to draw us closer. We are the ones who put obstacles in the way. With God's help, we can identify them and remove them. We can then journey with Jesus through his 40 days in the wilderness, the events of Holy Week, and then with joy celebrate his resurrection on Easter Day. Amen.

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